The latest Tuscan tale by Simon Law:
To the north, above, and on which a small Tuscan village nestles, stands a mountain: through the millennia this peak has protected the buildings and inhabitants of Santa Giuditta from both violence and adverse weather.
The peak has always also been the village’s only source of water. Perpetual, reliable, acting as if it were a sponge, the great mountain soaks up every last drop of rain from the smallest shower to the longest and most vicious of storms – releasing the life-giving liquid into a series of streams that tumble and seep from its heights. Since nobody can remember, and there are no official records, it is assumed the gift has been always unceasing.
When Bruno was a boy, few village houses had domestic plumbing. Most water was gathered from the fountain in the village’s central piazza. Conveniently located taps and pumps were dotted around the village.
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The laundries, to the East and West of the village, had their own sources, and on the rare occasions one ran dry the other always seemed to work. A main sewer that ran through the centre of the village collected most human waste.
It was at the end of the 1920s that men started to appear with red and white poles, huge tape measures and things that looked like little telescopes on tripods. It seemed to the young Bruno that they were there for months: ‘surveying’ his father had told him. Nobody expected anything to come of this endeavour, things rarely did, but in 1928 the regional council announced a dam and reservoir were to be built above the village.
Great play was made of the advantages that this magnificent project would bring to Santa Giuditta; work for the often-impoverished population would certainly be a bonus. The professionals that would have to be brought in to oversee the scheme would have to be found accommodation in the village. Doctors arrived to speak at village meetings about the benefits of sanitation.
There were one or two farmers, mostly from the land below the village, who were concerned about their supplies of water but the council’s experts were quick to assure them that there would be plenty of water for all.
Only once the surveying had been completed, the designer’s assistants were in residence, and supplies were piling up all around the site of the dam and in purpose built sheds, keenly guarded by a patrol of no less than four Carabinieri police officers, was the village council was ‘asked’ permission for the construction of the new reservoir.
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The village meeting was extraordinarily well attended. The area council sent up several particularly vocal spokesmen to speak in favour of the project. After the Mayor pointed out the decision to build the dam – part of the National Government’s Public Works programs – and the Carabinieri officer had fingered his holster and vigorously nodded assent, few spoke against the project. The villagers of Santa Giuditta had already learned that opposing Fascist government policy, at least openly, was not a wise option.
It took less than two years to build the reservoir and dam. It was only afterwards that it was explained that those few villagers who wanted the mains water run into their houses would have to pay for the privilege. It was fortunate that the second, and secret, part of the plan, the national government being otherwise tied up: to build a supply pipe into the nearby town, was cancelled. And a few years after that the water to the farms, south and east of Santa Giuditta, began, during certain summers, to dry up.
The ancient fountain in the main piazza of the village continued to flow and most villagers, and many from all around Santa Giuditta, still collected their drinking water from it, as they had done for centuries.
A new Tuscan tale will appear on Italy Chronicles next week.
What are these Tuscan Tales on Italy Chronicles all about? Find out here: About Tuscan Tales
After Chelsea School of Art, Portsmouth Polytechnic and Ruskin College, Simon began work in the film and television industry in 1979 (United Motion Pictures, Southern Television, TVS, LWT, Thames Television, BBC, C4, British Screen, Skreba Productions …) as an assistant film editor, later as an editor – occasionally a director and producer.
Simon splits time between London and a small village in North Tuscany. Between buying a house, beginning to do it up and the arrival of #1 son, he worked on: “The Last Syllable”, a connected series of short stories; a novel, “Come Again” and a series of short stories about the village, “Santa Giuditta”.
Simon can be found on Twitter as @SanQuirico
Photos: Piazza Santa Croce fountain in Florence & Life Giving Water by Alex Roe